First, a PSA: Jay and I, along with Aaron Gould Sheinin, are about to record a video chat discussing last night’s debate. We’ll both be posting that on our respective blogs around noon.
But before we get to that, one more thought about the debate:
You could argue that the winner of last night’s debate was George W. Bush. Before you tell me that’s ridiculous, let me explain:
One reason Mitt Romney was so quick to agree with President Obama on so many issues is that his clear goal for the night was not to damage his candidacy by not appearing “presidential” or believable as the commander-in-chief. He didn’t want to come across as a war-monger — as I wrote last night, that seemed to have been drilled into his head by his aides — and he made that point several times. He still has to win this election on the economy, and his aim regarding foreign policy was not to provide a distraction from that. I think he did that.
Another reason is that foreign policy is one area on which voters have tended to rate the president rather favorably. But perhaps most important, he couldn’t put much daylight between himself and Obama because Obama’s foreign policy has dove-tailed with Bush’s in many ways. This allowed Romney to hit on many themes that resonate with the Rand Paul/less-interventionist wing of the GOP, without having to disavow some of the principles that Republican neocons believe.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay? Still open. Civilian trials for terror suspects? All but abandoned. Tellingly, neither topic came up last night.
Troops in Iraq? Withdrawn on the timeline to which the Bush administration agreed (and, contra Obama last night, only after negotiations to keep some number of troops in Iraq broke down). A bias toward letting predominantly Muslim nations, in particular, choose their own governments? Demonstrated from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt. Benign (or not so benign) neglect of both the U.S. dollar and our neighbors in Latin America? Continued.
Obama has sounded different than Bush, to be sure. And he did preside over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But the deaths of our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi demonstrate that killing bin Laden did not decapitate al-Qaida, just as the Bush administration often argued it wouldn’t.
One difference between Bush and Obama has been the latter’s approach to harsh interrogation techniques. But instead of torturing captives, or coming close to it, Obama’s policy has been to kill them — and possibly innocent people nearby — via drone strikes. An intellectually honest antiwar left would be marching in the streets about that. And from the right’s perspective, one critique I’ve heard about Romney last night was that he missed an opportunity to point out that drone strikes make it much harder to gather intelligence about the terrorists we’re still very much at war with.
In many ways, though, Obama’s presidency has served to validate many of Bush’s foreign policies. You don’t hear that often, from either side, but it was one reason for the lack of fireworks last night.
– By Kyle Wingfield